No matter how you slice it, your slice manager matters a lot
If you were to ask mobile network operators what keeps them up at night, “5G slice management” probably wouldn’t be their first answer. Or their second, third, fourth… well, you get the point. The fact is that slicing is just a very small slice of 5G rollouts at first, with operators deploying only a few 5G slices initially: one for consumers, another for enterprises, maybe a third for an MVNO partner, but nothing so elaborate that managing those slices becomes a cause for sleepless nights.
Operators who ignore 5G slice management altogether, however, could be in for a rude awakening. By 2023, 5G users are expected to make up about half of all mobile subscribers. When that happens, operators will go from a few slices to a few hundred and, eventually, a few thousand. There will be slices for every app (e.g., Netflix, Facebook, YouTube), for every enterprise, and even for every application within an enterprise (e.g., manufacturing floor sensors, delivery vehicles, virtual private networks, videoconferencing). And managing all those slices will be unmanageable without an automated slice management tool.
Now that we’ve got you thinking about 5G slice management, the question is What should you look for in a slice manager? It ultimately comes down to four key capabilities:
When 5G ramps up, operators are going to need to create slices quickly. Think sushi chef fast. So, their slice manager has to support a DevOps framework that allows them to create, spin up, iterate, and spin down slices dynamically to meet rapidly changing subscriber demands. Ultimately, slices will define the services you sell; the more slices you have, the more revenue streams you’ll have coming into your business.
Support for Virtualization
It’s a given that any operator implementing 5G capabilities will already be pretty far down the virtualization/container path. 5G slice management needs to support a virtualized environment, which brings to the fore unique concerns. For example, how do you measure NIC bandwidth, CPU, memory, and disk space on virtualized hardware? And how do you prioritize and balance traffic when you only have a single rack of virtualized servers in an edge deployment? The slice manager needs to be able to capture these metrics and re-balance or re-tune traffic in as close to real time as possible.
Conserving physical resources is important, but so is serving up great subscriber experiences. Service optimization isn’t a new concept for operators, but it requires a new process in 5G. Today, operators optimize their services by drilling down into their data to pinpoint areas for improvement and then making manual adjustments accordingly. With a 5G slice manager, operators can now do this automatically. For example, a slice manager may detect congestion issues and decide to optimize Netflix videos through video compression. This traffic could be moved to an automatically instantiated slice in order to prevent impact to other services. A lot of these automated optimization capabilities will be enabled by a new network function defined in 5G, the network data analytics function (NWDAF).
Orchestration in this sense refers to integration within an ecosystem of solutions. Some 5G vendors will try to sell operators a complete ecosystem based on their own technology and, yes, you would expect tight integration in such a case, but that’s not necessarily the best approach. Our approach is that best-of-breed is best because it gives operators more flexibility to pick and choose the right components. You might have a RAN slice manager from one vendor, a transport slice manager from another, and a core network slice manager from Affirmed. Choosing an orchestration solution built on open standards ensures that everything works together, allowing operators to perform service activation, subscriber provisioning, and slice management all from one shared platform.
The intelligent part of the intelligent orchestration refers to out-of-the-box, automated capabilities. Affirmed, for example, includes a lot of prebuilt content and wizards in its slice manager to help operators quickly and automatically set up, customize, and manage slices. The advantage here isn’t just speed but accuracy, as automated slice management reduces common, manual errors.
So, now that you know what to look for in a 5G slice manager—and that Affirmed can deliver those capabilities today with its UnityCloud 5G core solution—maybe you’ll rest a little easier. But don’t rest too long, or you could risk missing out on your slice of the 5G revenue pie.